I would like to know the way Tchaikovsky was composing his works. I read
that A. Rubinstein taught his students (in time Tchaikovsky attended his
class) not to compose with piano. Is there any knowledge of how often
Tchaikovsky used piano (as helping instrument) while composing? Are there
any famous works he composed only in head?
Thank you for any remarks...
Generally your questions cannot be answered uniformly. There are some
comments from the eighteen seventies to the eighteen nineties, where
Tchaikovsky told himself something about his methods of composition
concerning the utilisation of piano or not.
1. letter to Leo V. Davydov, 05–19–1877 (composition of Evgenij Onegin)
“… The composition of an opera for me means, that I have to be sure
nobody can see and hear me during certain hours, because my habit is to
sing loudly during composition and the very thought of it, that anybody
can hear me bugs me…. In my bedroom I have a piano, without that, I
cannot compose, anyway not quick, calm and easefully.”
2. letter to Modest Thaikovsky, 06–09–1877 (composition of Evgenij
“… Nobody – except of Alesa – appears, when I’ am busy. The main
issue is, that I have a piano and when I am playing piano the sound will
achieve nobody except of Alesa …” (Alesa was his servant)
3. letter to Jurgenson, 04–22–1879 (composition of The Maid of Orleans)
“I’ll not need an instrument, because the whole summer I’ll be busy
with the instrumentation of the opera. And I’ll not have enough time to
4. from an interview (November 1892)
“How do musical ideas come into existence by yourself ?”
“… Musical ideas are coming, when I start to work and when I’ am free
of any worries and thoughts, which can distract me from work. By the way
– mostly the ideas come, when I go daily for a walk outside. Because of
my worse talent to keep musical ideas in good memory I use a note-book.”
Tchaikovsky never made improvisations on piano as a preparation for
composition. He immediately wrote down his ideas. These sketches were
developed to make first drafts. Step by step he made further critical
analysis up to the final score.
Tchaikovsky learned from Rubinstein the high professional niveau and
the discipline during his work. So he was able to control and navigate the
process of creation. This power was the basis to compose in just 29 years
his huge oeuvre.